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Cesare's Cabinet

Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index

Trial and Error.

"He's looking," Vince said.

"I know."

"He's coming over."

"I know," Stuart said.

They'd been hovering on the edges of the crowd at Via Fossa for ten minutes while Stuart tracked a fantastic blond, and it was paying off. The bloke peeled away from his friends and moved toward them, stepping in time to the music.

"Hiya," he said, looking the both of them over. "Having a good night?"

"Not bad," Stuart said.

"Saw you watching."

"And you," Stuart answered with a smile.

"Are you two looking for a party?"

"No," Vince said instantly.

"Speak for yourself," Stuart said. Vince rolled his eyes.

"I'm Sean," said the blond.


"Sean what?" Vince asked.


"Hiya. Vince."

"Vince what?" Sean asked, with a wink to Stuart.

"Smith," Vince said.

Sean laughed. "Wish I'd thought of that. Oh well, too late now. Be sure to say a good word when you turn me in, boys."

"You'll have to give us something to talk about first," Stuart said.

"I think that could be arranged. So… if you're not looking for a party, what are you looking for?"

"A drink," Vince said, lifting his glass. "I'll, um. D'you want anything?" When they shook their heads he nodded, "All right then. Nice meeting you."

"Sorry about him," Stuart said when he'd left. "He doesn't get out much."

"If I were you I wouldn't let him out much," Sean said, watching Vince go. "I'd keep him tied to the bed."

"He's not my boyfriend."

Sean turned back to Stuart with a growing smile. "Yeah? That mean you're shagging? Cos I'd love to sling you over my shoulder and take you back to mine."

"Feel free," Stuart said, spreading his arms as though to let the bloke pick him up.

"You'd better tell your friend you're going, first."

"No need. He's watching."

Sean's smile became a little cooler. "Tell him where you're going. It's only good manners. Besides, you can meet some dodgy people round here. Best look out for each other."

"All right, all right," Stuart said, taking another good look at Sean to remind himself why he was putting up with this.

Vince was trying to get the barman's attention from the back of a huge mob of men; when he spotted Stuart coming over, he gave up. "I can't even get a drink," he said moodily.

"If you stand down on that end," Stuart pointed, "you can reach down there and get a beer while his back's turned."

"What, steal it? Stuart! Have you been nicking drinks?"

"Yeah, and much as I'd like to stay so you can tick me off about it, I'm going."

"You're sleeping at his?"

"That's usually how it works. Not that you'd know." Sean was talking to another man; he was pointing at Stuart, and the other man looked his way. Stuart posed a bit for him, watching with satisfaction as the bloke turned to Sean and thumped his arm enviously.

"Cos remember I told you, Fred's going to be over tonight, so just--"

"I'll phone you," Stuart interrupted.

Vince shut his mouth and shook his head. "Yeah, all right."

Stuart nodded, still focused on Sean and the other man; he slowed his walk, timed it so that he arrived just as the other bloke was starting to move away.

"Ready to go?" Sean asked. "We can have another drink if you like."

"Let's," Stuart said. "At yours."

Sean's flat wasn't the best Stuart had ever been to, or the worst; it was somewhere in the seventieth percentile. The neighborhood wasn't great, and the place was sort of small and smelled strongly of oranges for some reason, but it was decorated with some flair. There was a huge green velvet sofa that would probably be good for shagging, and a kitchen table that looked fairly sturdy and about the right height. And if it came to it, the carpets looked clean.

"What'll you have?" Sean asked. "Beer, gin, vodka…? Vodka cranberry sound all right?"

"Whatever you're having."

Sean dumped ice into a pair of glasses. "You're not from Manchester."

"Nah. Moved here from Dublin a few years ago."

"You're a bit quiet. Not nervous, are you?"

Stuart shook his head silently and gave Sean the full benefit of his most direct, smoldering expression.

Sean smiled. "You're meant to say something, lad. It's customary. Just ask a question or tell me a bit about yourself. Complement the décor."

"Nice place," Stuart deadpanned.

"And why should I waste a drink on you then, if you're so eager to get right down to business?" Sean asked, but he held out one of the vodka cranberries. "I've a good mind to drink it myself, but I can't have a head tomorrow morning, too much to do. You don't deserve it though, making me prat about like this."

Stuart accepted it and leaned in the doorway of the lounge, arranging himself just so. "I'll make it up to you," he promised slyly.

"I think you will, at that. How old are you?" Sean asked.

"Young," Stuart answered.

"I can see that."

"What difference does it make? You've already brought me home."

Sean drew closer, his eyes eating up every inch of Stuart. "True enough. So now that you're here. What do you like?"

Stuart tossed his head back and grinned at him. "What've you got?"


"Seventeen," Sean guessed.



"One more."


"Bang on."

"Fifteen," Sean said. "Jesus Christ. They'll lead me away in chains. God willing."

Stuart pushed himself up from the pillows with a suppressed sigh of irritation. He didn't really like to talk after or, in fact, at all. Sean was definitely a talker.

"Still. As thrilling a notion as that is, it might be better if you didn't hang about," Sean said.

"What, you're chucking me out?" Stuart gave him a decent pout. "We could have another go in the morning."

"God, if only," Sean said. "But I can't. I'm up early. You can doss here if you've nowhere to go, but you'll have to get up and leave when I do."

"How early?"


"Fuck, that's early," Stuart kicked out from under the covers.

"Sure you'll be all right?"

"I'm staying with my friend."

"You're killing me," said Sean. "Do him one for me while you're at it, yeah?"

"You like him?" Stuart asked as he elbowed his way back into his shirt.

"What's not to like? Listen, if your friend ever changes his mind about that party, here," he fished a business card out of the nightstand drawer, "ring me on a weekend sometime."

"I'll tell him you offered," Stuart smirked, taking the card.

"Honestly, I don't even have to be in it," Sean said. "Pair of gorgeous teenagers going at it in my bed? I could get off just thinking about it. Seeing it would probably give me an aneurysm, but what a way to go."


Stuart stood in the garden throwing pebbles against Vince's window for what seemed like years. Finally Vince pried it open and stuck his head out.

"What took you so long?" Stuart asked, and threw another couple of pebbles for good measure.

"What're you doing here?" Vince whispered down tightly. "I thought you were staying with that bloke."

"Changed my mind. Come on then, come down and let me in."

"I can't," Vince said, "that Fred's still here. Didn't you see, the light's on. I had a hard enough time getting in myself without them knowing."

"Fuck! Vince, you've got to let me in, where'm I meant to go?" Stuart leaned back, looking at the house. "Isn't there a window you can sneak me into?"

"I tried to tell you," Vince said, "I told you he'd be here but you wouldn't listen."

"What the fuck d'you want me to do then, sleep under a fucking bridge? Can't I climb up or something?"

"Keep your bloody voice down!"

"This is so fucking stupid, I can't believe you're letting me freeze my arse off out here while you're wrapped up all snug in your bed. Sweet fucking dreams, thanks a lot, Vince."

"Fuck off," Vince said, "if you didn't notice I am hanging half out my window since you woke me up, you cunt. If you'd shut your face for five seconds and let me think..."

"One, two, three, four, five--"

"The shutting your face part is crucial, Stuart."

Stuart held up his hand, counted out 1-2-3-4-5, and finished with two fingers.

"Come round to mum's window, if I shut her door they won't hear it coming open. You'll have to-- here," Vince disappeared and returned with a battered footstool. "Catch."

"Not a chance! Throw it down, I'm standing well clear of that thing--"

Vince dropped it down. "Bring it round to mum's window, use it to boost up and get onto the window ledge, and if you reach up from there I can pull you up."

Stuart managed the first two steps of the plan without much bother, but once he was on the ledge, one hand on the gritty shingles, the other clinging for purchase on the narrow windowpane, things became a bit more complicated.

"Can you reach any higher?" Vince asked from somewhere above his head.

He stretched, shoving his hand as high as he could reach. "That's it," he said, "I'm on my toes as it is."

"Hang on a tick," said Vince. Stuart heard some shuffling and felt Vince's fingers brush over his. "All right, can you lift your hand without losing your balance?"

Stuart managed it, and Vince grabbed hold.

"Now the other."

He shut his eyes and clamped his teeth together hard and let go, raising his hand, and Vince seized it tightly.

"Put your foot on the sash. Count of three, I'll pull up, you push up. Once you're on the roof it'll be easy. Ready?"


"One, two, three--"

Stuart levered himself up, his feet slipping as fast as he could plant them, and Vince heaved him up by his hands, his grip solid as stone. Once Stuart managed to get his knee over the edge of the roof, it wasn't much trouble to pull himself up the rest of the way and sprawl across the shingles, the rough stone grabbing his clothes like Velcro.

In order to reach him, Vince had climbed almost entirely out the window, with only his feet still inside the house. Stuart scooted up next to the pane and dragged Vince up with him.

"All right?" Vince asked once they'd caught their breath.

"Never better," Stuart said. "Not a bad view."

"Yeah. I can see the sign for the pawn shop. So what happened, why'd you leave?"

"He wouldn't shut up," Stuart said. "Those blokes that keep talking and talking, they're so fucking dull. Couldn't be arsed to stick around for any more of that."

"Well next time you can bloody well suffer through it," said Vince. "I told you Fred would be here."

"So? What's Fred going to do?"

"It's not him, it's just, you know, they're down there. They're up. Can't come in so late when he's about."

"Bollocks. They're just down there drinking. We could've snuck past. Even if they saw us they'd just think it was the DTs."

"Oi, d'you mind? That's my mum you're talking about," Vince said. "And you get DTs when you stop drinking. C'mon, let's go in, it's cold out here."

They tiptoed back to Vince's room. Vince had no sooner shut the door than a tromping came up the stairs-- they grabbed each other, stifling laughter, as Fred bellowed, "Back in a tick, don't you change that channel," and then the door to the toilet slammed across the hall.

They shushed each other, fits of giggles overtaking them, until Fred thumped down the stairs again.

"Oh my god," Vince laughed, standing back from Stuart. "Five more seconds and he'd've found us out. Mum would've killed us."

"Lucky us," Stuart said. "So which side's mine?"

"You're not sacking out with me, you smell like-- like oranges or something," Vince said, heading into the closet.


"So, I'm not going to breathe that in all night." He came out with an armful of bedding. "We'll put this down for you."

"On the floor?"

"Best I can do on such short notice," Vince told him. "If you don't like it, you can go home."

Stuart narrowed his eyes, but he didn't have a ready reply to that one.

As they settled in, Vince in his bed, Stuart in his cocoon of blankets on the floor, Vince asked, "So how was it?"

"Excellent, aside from the chatter. He was really good. And he fancied you," Stuart said. "He asked about you. Told me I should do you one for him. And have you phone him."

"Go on, pull the other one," Vince said, throwing a pillow at him with rather more force than was strictly required. "You're still sleeping on the floor."

Stuart laughed. "I knew that'd piss you off."


"You deserve it, making me sleep on the floor."

"Fuck off, Stuart," said Vince, as though he were saying good night.

"Fuck off, Vince," Stuart answered, smiling in the dark.


He left Vince's house early in the morning to avoid Vince's mum, and wasted some time in the park before heading home to find Marie lying in wait.

"You were out last night," she proclaimed, sniffing the air around him dramatically. "You stink like a pub."

"Piss off," he tried to shove round her.

She stood firm. "I think that's worth a tenner to keep to myself, don't you?"

Stuart had been saving up for this. "Claire Yarrow had an abortion last month," he said. "I'll tell mum that, she won't let you meet up with her any more. And she'll go talking to Claire's mum, and Claire will think you're the one let it slip."

"Don't be stupid. She didn't have an abortion," Marie tried.

"Everyone knows she did. And two nights before that she tried to kill herself with pills. Imagine if mum found out you were there and didn't phone for an ambulance."

"I wasn't there!" she exclaimed, and then her mouth snapped shut and he smiled at her.

"Fuck off," he repeated, barging past her.

"All right," she said after him, "you get a free one for that, but that's it, Stuart. You tell her about Claire, I'll tell her about you."

He cast a murderous glare at her.

"I don't imagine she'll care much about the other thing if I show her one of your magazines, you think? Cos I didn't even do anything."

"I didn't do anything either!"

"Doesn't smell that way to me," she said, waving her hand in front of her face.

"I didn't do anything wrong," he corrected.

"Underage drinking--"

"You've done that."

"Underage shagging."

"You've done that as well, and believe me, I can't wait til you're the one getting a baby carved out of you," he said. "But try a wire hanger first, I hear it's cheaper. Better yet, try the pills. I'll be glad to run down the chemist for you."

"You're disgusting," Marie said. "I should tell them just for that."

"You do and I'll tell them everything I know," he said. "We'll have a nice long chat, the four of us. Everything from great-aunt Minnie's broach you stole, to that bloke who had your trousers half off in mum and dad's bloody bedroom, and I'll make up a few things as well, why not."

This time she was the one to say, "Piss off, you hateful little bastard."

"Less of the little," he suggested. "I'm taller than you now."

"You're the smallest person I know," she said. "Don't forget, Stuart. You can tell them what you like, there's nothing to back it up. But I have evidence."

He seethed silently. She did; she'd stolen a copy of Bum Boys from his stash inside the cushion of an old chair that sat neglected in his room.

And even if Stuart stacked up everything Marie had ever done wrong in her life, his parents still wouldn't think all her sins put together were as bad as the fact that their only son was a queer.

"You shut your face, I'll shut mine. But you're doing my turn at cooking this week. Make that every week. Or you can tell them. Your choice," Marie said, and slammed her door.


They were spotted by a bouncer and chased out of Dante's-- not the most rousing start for a night out. Stuart and Vince resorted to a far corner at Casanova.

"We could try Via Fossa," Vince suggested.

"We can't keep going to the same places all the time. How're we ever going to see anything?"

"What's the difference? You can't see anything here, it's too dark. Seems a bit dodgy if you ask me."

"I didn't. Worry about something useful, Vince, worry about how we're going to get a drink without getting thrown out again."

"I'm not going up."

"I did it last time."

"I'm not bothered."

"We'll have to find someone to buy us drinks," Stuart decided, turning his attention to the crowd.

"Remember Deirdre?"


"The girl from my history class. I introduced you."

"The one with all the badges?"

"Yeah," Vince said. "She came to the shop. I helped her find some Specials albums and she asked me to go with her to that dance next week."

Stuart rounded on him. "You're going on a date with a girl?" He already knew Vince wouldn't have said no.

Vince looked away. "Just as friends."

"Does she know that?"

"She asked me as friends."

"You're such a twat, Vince." Stuart caught the eye of a bloke, looked to be mid-twenties, fit, with an unseasonable tan. He wasn't bad; he was nice enough really, but there was something off about him. "Oi, see the bloke in green, looking this way?"

"Yeah. Nice," said Vince, and then he frowned. "Seems sort of… I dunno."

"That's what I was thinking," Stuart said.

"Shit, he's coming over."

"We'll just get drinks off him and then we'll freeze him out," Stuart decided.

"What if he wants his money's worth?" Vince asked, but the man arrived before Stuart had to answer.

"How're you boys doing tonight?" the bloke asked with a companionable leer.

Vince gave him an unencouraging, "So-so."

"Yeah? Me, I'm doing a lot better than so-so, honey. Can I get you anything, buy you a drink?"

"Yeah," Stuart portioned out a bit of a smile for him, "we could do with a couple of rum and cokes."

The bloke left them long enough to flag down a barman, and came back straight away. The barman brought three glasses out to them and the bloke flashed quite a wad of notes as he paid.

He pushed the drinks across the table and said, "I think I've seen you before. Weren't you both at Napoleon's last Saturday night?"

"No," Vince lied.

"Could've sworn," the bloke said. "You're memorable, you are. D'you come as a set?"

"Why? Are you trying to buy us?" Stuart asked, delighted.

Vince made an urgent shut-it face at him, sidling away from the bloke a bit.

"Are you on offer?" the bloke grinned.

"You couldn't afford us," Stuart flirted.

"Oh, I don't know. Seems like you ought to go two for one. You're not exactly playing doubles-- more like one and a half, aren't you?"

Vince crossed his arms, his shoulders going up. He couldn't step any further away without abandoning Stuart outright, so he just sort of hovered there, looking slighted and miserable.

"I mean, if you turned sideways, you'd disappear," the bloke went on, indicating Stuart with a flick of his hand.

"'Scuse me?" Stuart asked, affronted.

"No offense, lad, you're just a bit on the scrawny side, there, aren't you?"

Stuart said archly, "Depends where you look."

The bloke laughed floridly. "You're all right," he said, amused. "Stay by me, I'll take care of you tonight. Maybe later on I'll take a look at whatever you've got."

"You'd be lucky," Stuart said.

"I am lucky," he said. "I'm a very lucky man. Name's Bert."


"Ty," Vince said when Bert looked at him expectantly.

"Yeah? What's that short for?"

Vince immediately looked guilty. "Tyson."

"Odd," Burt judged. "Not Tyler?"

"No," Vince answered too quickly.

"Never heard of Tyson as a first name before." Bert smiled, "And I meet a lot of men."

"My mum's a bit eccentric," Vince offered.

"Well, that's true," Stuart said. Vince tried to stomp on his foot under the table, but growing up with a sister did have a few advantages; Stuart saw it coming and had already got out of the way.

Bert stuck with them for the next hour, paying for everything, giving them both the eye. He wouldn't shut up about himself: he was lucky, he was rich, he'd had hundreds of men; have another drink, there's a good lad.

Bert didn't fit into their conversations, Vince wouldn't speak to him in anything but monosyllables, and Bert and Stuart only traded more barely-veiled insults. But he wouldn't leave, and after an hour, it started to be a bit creepy.

"Excuse me, boys," he said eventually, "just got to spend a penny and I'll be right back."

The moment he was out of sight Vince said, "Let's duck out. He's not going away, he likes you."

"So? I'll string him along, we'll get free drinks for the rest of the night."

"That's not fair, leading him on."

"Maybe I'll shag him. He's all right."

"Just for drinks? Stuart. There's something weird about him. It's not worth it," Vince said. "Let's just go."

"I'm not doing a runner," Stuart replied. "If you want him gone, tell him to sod off."

"I can't tell him that!"

"Why not?" Stuart demanded. "Just tell him to fuck off! Why're you bending over backwards for these people? Can't tell him to leave, can't turn down the badge girl-- what the fuck, Vince, I know you can bloody well say no."

"Even if I did tell him, we're not going to see the back of him," Vince argued. "If he's not taking the hint yet to sod off, he never will."

"Might as well save us all the time then," Stuart slammed down the rest of his drink and started after the bloke.

Vince caught his arm. "Stuart! You don't even fancy him!"

"He's nice enough," Stuart said.

"Nice enough, that doesn't mean you have to shag him."

"Why not? Fuck's sake, Vince, have you gone home with anyone yet? If you're not looking to cop off, what're you out here for?"

"What's wrong with just having a laugh?" Vince asked defensively.

"Nothing," Stuart said, "but that shouldn't be all you ever have. Christ, no wonder you're going off your head, making dates with girls--"

"I'm only taking her out as a friend," Vince insisted.

"Does she know you're queer?"

Vince's eyes dropped, and he muttered, "No."

"No bloody wonder she doesn't know. You practically don't even know yourself," Stuart said. "Now I dunno about you, but I'm shagging."

"Just-- be careful," Vince gave up. "See you tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Stuart said, and looked down at Vince's hand on his arm until Vince realised he was still holding on, and quickly let go.

Bert was just coming out of the toilets when Stuart found him.

"Couldn't wait, eh?" Bert asked.

"Something like that," Stuart said. "Yours?"

"Thought you'd never ask."


The flat wasn't the nicest Stuart had ever been in, but it was in the top ten. There was no poncing about; Bert led him directly to the bedroom and told him to strip.

Bert's body was lovely, but he was completely passive. No snogging, no touching, he just ordered Stuart about. "Oh yeah. Right there. Grab hold there. That's so good. Your mouth-- ahhh. Harder, harder…" and once Stuart sucked him off, Bert only spread his legs wider. Stuart took the cue and fingered him a bit.

Bert murmured, "Oh yeah, that's it, honey. Fuck me."

"Where do you keep everything?" Stuart asked, when Bert made no move for supplies.

"Don't need anything, love, just go easy. Mmm, that's nice."

Fuck that. Stuart got his trousers off the floor and fished the lube and condom out of his pocket.

"Mind the sheets," said Bert.

"If you decide to participate in this shag at all, warn me," Stuart said as he prepped the man. "Otherwise the shock might kill me."

"Shut the fuck up," Bert said, almost pleasantly, not even opening his eyes.

At that, Stuart did think of leaving. But he'd said he wasn't doing a runner. And it wasn't as though it would be a trial, giving the bloke a good shafting. He hitched Bert's legs up and shoved in with no further preliminaries, pitching his hips until Bert began to moan.

It must have been exhausting, just lying there through the whole thing; Bert fell asleep soon after Stuart finished with him. It was only half eleven. If he phoned for a cab, he could still get home before his curfew. He could just tell them he'd changed his mind about staying at Vince's. He didn't have enough for it, but he decided Bert owed him cab fare. Stuart dressed again and checked the bureau to rob a tenner, and could only stare.

There were piles and piles of crumpled notes on the bureau, along with a double fistful of francs and some American dollars. Stuart counted at least four hundred quid in plain sight. He thought of all the clumsy jokes Bert kept making about buying them, and the way he maundered on about being rich.

Stuart had been bought. Fuck, no wonder the bloke made him do all the work.

He took a tenner to pay for a cab, and walked out of the room.

Then he came back and took two hundred pounds.


"You have to come out tonight," Stuart told Vince. They were in the boys' room near the gym; it was meant to be closed before first bell, but they knew a side way in.

"We were just out last night," Vince said, lighting a cigarette. "It's getting up on exams. I'm going to fail maths if I don't pull it out on the test."

"We have to go out tonight," Stuart insisted. "Trust me. Tell your mum you're staying at mine."

"That never works. Where'm I going to sleep? Last time I had to sneak back into my own bed, she caught me in the morning, I had to say I left yours cos we'd had a fight."

"It'll work tonight," Stuart said, "cos we'll get a room at the Union."

"You're mad! That must be forty quid."

"And that way you can cop off and have someplace to go, since you never want to go home with anyone. It'll be brilliant, Vince."

"Don't be daft. Even if we had the bob for it, they'd never let us cos we're underage."

"I'll get someone to sign for us. Easy. Look at this." He pulled out his wallet and flashed his new bankroll.

Vince gaped, his eyes gone enormous. "Oh my god! Where the fuck did you get all that?"

Stuart grinned at him, tucking the wallet away again. "Take a guess."

"You-- that bloke? The weird one?"

He nodded. "Two hundred."

Normally Vince was as excited as he was scandalized by Stuart's exploits, but this time he didn't react at all as expected. He looked upset, his expression practically tragic. "Stuart," he said. "You can't do that."

"Why not?" Stuart asked. "I'd've shagged him anyway."

"Cos-- you can't put a price on it like that, it's… it's like… is that what it's worth? Two hundred?"

"Well, two hundred an hour," Stuart said sardonically, "be fair."

Vince's brow crumpled with disappointment. "Look, you just-- you--" and then he sighed. "Never mind," he muttered. "What do I know. I just don't think you should... You're worth more than that."

"I know that," Stuart said impatiently.

At that Vince only shrugged, his shoulders slumped, mouth turned down; he didn't look at Stuart.

"Oh for fuck's sake," laughed Stuart, "you can't take a fucking joke at all, can you. I robbed it, all right? Wanker stiffed me for cab fare, so when he fell asleep I found his cash and robbed some off him. He deserved it, he was a crap shag, didn't even ask me how I was getting home."

"You cunt," said Vince. "What's wrong with you? That's nothing to fucking joke about, Stuart!"

"Don't get arsey with me, you're the one who believed it, you sad bastard," Stuart said. "Now are you coming tonight or what? You have to, Vince, it'll be the best."

"I can't come out tonight," Vince said, "I promised mum I'd be home, we're moving some stuff out the spare room."

Stuart drew up, narrowed his eyes. "Liar," he said.

"I did," Vince insisted, and usually when he lied he was evasive, but now he only looked at Stuart steadily, like he didn't give a toss if Stuart believed him or not.

"Fine, I'll go on my own," Stuart said.

"You'll tell me about it tomorrow, yeah?"

"Yeah, all right," Stuart said.

And then after all that, he couldn't even sneak out that night. His mother kept nagging at his dad about a squeaky hinge in the front hall and complaining how he kept putting off repairs, and his dad wound up booming, "Fine, then I'll do it now, tonight, right now!"

Stuart dressed to go out and lay across his bed waiting for a chance, but his dad was still stalking around downstairs when Stuart finally fell asleep.


It just got worse from there.

The next night was Vince's date with Deirdre, and Stuart was really dying to get out of the house-- something was fundamentally amiss when Vince was out and he wasn't-- but the repair argument must've sparked off another big fight, because his dad made a bed on the sofa. So there was no getting past him that night either.

And from worse to ludicrous, when Stuart went to school the next morning he saw Vince walking along with two boys who'd never spoken to either of them before, boys who were crowding around him, one of them thumping him enviously on the arm. Vince waved to them as they peeled off and left him, and then he spotted Stuart and came over.

"Who're they?" Stuart asked.

"They were at the dance last night," Vince said.

"How was it?"

"Um, really boring. You're missing nothing."

"We're missing nothing," Stuart corrected.

"The music was rubbish. I mean, best thing they played all night? Human League. That's how bad it was."

They passed a group of girls, and one of them glanced over and saw Vince and said, "Oooeeeeee," and the lot of them started laughing. Vince blushed pink and sped up his walk.

"Fucking Christ, you shagged her," Stuart said.

Vince opened his mouth to deny it, but as soon as he met Stuart's eyes he pressed his lips together and flinched a bit. "It just sort of happened," he said.

"Bloody hell, Vince! I can't believe it, you shagged her," Stuart said.

Vince grimaced. "I know, I know, just... leave it."

"Oh you wish," Stuart said, "you have to tell me everything-- Vince, you have to. Not just cos you had a girl either. It's your first time shagging someone full out, so you have to tell me about it for that, on top of having to tell me about having a girl."

"It is not my first time shagging someone full out."

"Who then?"

"It--" Vince looked around. People were watching them, listening in, trying to hear what they were on about. Word must've spread already that Tyler pulled the night before. "I'll tell you about all of it," he said. "After school."

The day dragged on forever. Every class felt like the longest hour in the world. When the last bell finally rang, Stuart couldn't get out fast enough.

They went to Vince's; his mum was on the phone, smoking, listening intently. She lifted her hand in a friendly wave to them as they sidled past and up to Vince's room.

"So?" Stuart demanded.

"So, we went to the dance, I took her home, her parents were out at the cinema, we went in, I kissed her goodnight, she kissed me back, we shagged on the sofa, the end."

"I don't give a shit about that, I want to know who you shagged full out before."

"Oh," Vince said. "This bloke. Wesley. Remember, I did tell you about him. You'd already copped off, and he asked me to his, he only lived two blocks off, so I thought it'd be all right. And he said he was up for it, so."

"You said you had him, you didn't say you gave him one."

"It was sort of," Vince said, and stopped. "It was sort of nice. He was nice. And it just seemed like… I dunno. Didn't want you to take the piss, you know?"

"When was this?"

"Must be two months back."

"And you never said. That's not fair, I tell you everything," Stuart said.


"So how do you go from that, to copping off with a girl?"

"Didn't cop off with her," Vince said. "I told you, it just--"

"Just happened, right. Don't act so fucking thick, Vince. What did you think was going to happen when you took her out?"

"Nothing! I thought we'd dance, have a laugh, home by midnight--"

"Didn't you think when she asked you, she must've fancied you?"

"As friends," Vince insisted. "She asked me to go with her as friends. What am I gonna say, no, you're not my friend?"

"You could just say no. You've never gone to any of these stupid things before."

"No one ever asked me before."

"Oh?" Stuart asked, "Is that all it takes?"

Vince scowled, "Fuck off."

"You knew this was going to happen and you did it anyway," Stuart said. "You took her out--"

"As a friend!"

"And did you tell her about this charming peculiarity of yours, that you don't shag your friends?" Stuart inquired.

"I didn't mean for it to happen," Vince said. "I didn't want to hurt her feelings--"

"Right, cos she's gonna feel really good when she finds out she got a pity fuck off a queer," Stuart said. "What if she has a baby?"

"God, I know," Vince said, covering his face with his hands. "It's all I've been thinking of. I used a condom, but… what's the failure rate? Three percent? With my luck, 97% odds in my favor's not enough. And she's going round saying I'm her boyfriend, what can I tell her? I can't say anything now."

"Right. Yeah. Of course you can't. Fuck's sake, Vince. Just admit it. You did this on purpose," Stuart accused.

"I didn't!"

"You did, you put yourself right into it. Spend your life in the closet, go ahead. Like all those sad bastards that cruise the toilets after work, shoot off a quick one and then home to the wife and kids. Cos being gay, it's just like a hobby, right? Doesn't have to be your whole way of life."

"It's not like that," Vince said. "It's not. It's just a few months. She's moving in with her cousin when she turns sixteen."

"Just a few months," said Stuart. "Unless-- oops!-- you accidentally shag her again. Keep rolling the dice, she tips up pregnant…"

"What the fuck am I supposed to do? I can't tell her now, it'll just make it worse."

"That's just your excuse. Poor Vince, trapped by circumstance! It's not your fault you lied to her, you were just being nice! You're a fucking cunt, Vince."

"And you've told your parents, then?" Vince asked, furious color burning in his face. "You have room to talk, cos you've come out. Right?"

Anyone else, Stuart would have hit for that. As it was, they stared at each other for long moments, angry and unbudging.

"Fuck off," Stuart said finally. "They don't matter. I know who I am. I'm out there. I'm doing it. What're you doing?"

Vince couldn't answer.

Stuart nodded slowly. "Right. I'm off."

He left. Vince said nothing to call him back.


He had a mad night, out on Canal Street on his own. He let an iffy bloke buy him drinks all night, and the two of them picked up a third man and went to his. He had coke, so they each did a line. A fourth man showed up and paired off with the iffy one.

Stuart was left with the owner of the flat, who poured him a drink that made his head spin. The flat owner kept trying to talk him into something, it finally came out that the bloke only wanted to top him. Stuart tried to tell him he didn't need to make such a fuss, he would've done that, but he was blurred out on everything he'd taken and couldn't shape the words.

It was all right, that first shag, but then they all met up again in the lounge. There was a sort of a group thing, Stuart spent some time snogging the iffy bloke he'd pulled in the first place. Then everyone switched around. Stuart wound up in the bedroom with the fourth bloke, who was really nice, but this one wanted to top him as well. When Stuart shoved him off, the man said,

"Now sugar, don't be like that. Bert told me you were up for anything."

That was true enough. Stuart was up for anything, so everything was all right, even if he was seeing light trails and they were passing him around like the last joint at a slow party.

By that point he felt weirdly lucid, despite everything. He could've left, they weren't keeping him there, the door was open; he could've locked himself in the toilet until his head cleared; come to that, he could've murdered all three and probably got away with it, if you were going to kill someone you ought to be underage, so they'd go easy.

Or he could do it. No reason not to, really. They were all good-looking, they were using condoms, the flat was all right, there was plenty to drink. It was like a rite of passage. If he could fuck his way through this, he could do anything.

Stuart drank, did another line of coke, had the fourth man, joined in when they all piled into the second bedroom together. He was up for anything, so everything was all right.

He stumbled home in the morning, and told his mum he'd caught the flu off Vince; he stayed home from school and slept fourteen hours.

When he woke up, he stared at the ceiling for a while. His jaw ached, he was sore all over, his eyes felt as though they were full of sand.

It could have happened to him any time he'd copped off. But it never had, when he'd been going out with Vince. It wasn't until now that he realised how Vince had been looking out for him. Staring openly at the faces of the men Stuart left with, asking for names, jobs, addresses, so that they knew there was a witness, someone who'd make trouble if it went bad.

But it hadn't been that bad. Hadn't really been bad at all. He supposed, looking at it one way, that it might have been frightening and degrading. But looking at it another way, he'd had three fabulous men all in one night. On the one hand, they'd plied him with drugs so they could do what they liked with him. On the other hand, he'd scored quite a bit of free cocaine and rode a great high for hours on end.

From one view, he was a strung out teenager, on his own, in way over his head with three older men. One of whom, it now occurred to him, might have charged the other two for the pleasure of Stuart's company; why else would the fourth one have mentioned Bert? But it was all in how you looked at it.

He lay in bed mulling it over, until he'd convinced himself it had, in fact, been an amazing, fantastic night. Free-flowing liquor, really good coke, three gorgeous men he'd fancied rotten. A grand sexual adventure.

If he were talking to Vince, he'd phone him up to tell him all about how great it had been, and Vince would make him feel brave and lucky and invulnerable.

But Vince was probably going out with that bloody girl again tonight. If Vince copped off properly, he'd never even be able to get it up for that stupid cow. Instead he was so desperate he'd shag some daft lovesick girl. Probably he'd knock her up, marry her, wind up saddled with a wife and kids, drowning his sorrows in booze and telly, sneaking out on weekends to cop off with the other sad beer-bellied closet cases.

If that was where being careful got you, then fuck being careful. There might be risks to shagging, but caution led directly to a fucking living death.

There was a knock on the door. He dragged himself out of bed, wincing a little, and stuck his head out, squinting.

"Mum said--" Marie did a double take at him. "Are you all right?"


"Mum said you were ill. You look it. You're okay?" she asked. She really did sound concerned; Stuart hated her then perhaps more than he ever had before.

"I don't have any money," he told her.

"I'm not looking for money," she said. "You sure you--" She reached to touch his forehead and he jerked back instinctively. Marie stared at him.

"What do you want?"

"Just, mum said you had the flu. I wanted to see if you were faking."

"Of course I'm faking," he told her.

"Have you been smoking in there?" she asked.

"Fuck off, Marie." He shut the door in her face.

He had to get out again that night, had to. Stuart made his way out quietly, stole out to a notorious public toilet just a few blocks away. He'd copped off there twice already, he knew he wouldn't have to wait long.

Like most men's toilets it stank of ammonia; the flickering fluorescent lights made his eyes feel even more gritty and horrid, and the thick caked, bilious green paint gave him a seasick look in the mirror. He undid a couple of buttons and tousled his curly hair until he looked just on the verge of tumbling for anything.

It wouldn't have mattered who came in, anyone would have done. It was just Stuart's good luck that the first bloke to come along was really nice: mid-twenties, fit, tall and good-looking. He was trying to look hard and cool when he came in, running a hand through his hair, but when he spotted Stuart his jaw dropped.

"You, uh," he said, and cleared his throat. "You're here late."

"I s'pose as a line, that edges out 'Come here often?'," Stuart said, "but only just."

"Yeah?" the bloke was recovering now, looking him over. "S'pose you have a better one."

"I don't need a line," Stuart said.

"Oh, all you have to do is show up?" the bloke asked, drawing nearer. He ran his hand down Stuart's chest, cupped him through his jeans, and said, "Hm. Seems like." His mouth was so hot; his hands burned on Stuart's skin.

Stuart snogged him heavily, urging him closer, pulling him in. He was smiling hard, he couldn't help it, because it was all just right, just how it was meant to be, sexy, thrilling, new and exciting, and he felt as fearless and eager as ever.

"What d'you like?" he stopped long enough to ask.

The bloke pulled back as he answered, his lips wet, breath coming faster, deeper. "What do you do?"

Stuart grinned wide and fierce. "I'm up for anything."


He had a love bite on his neck the next day. Stuart undid the collar button of his shirt so it showed. Whispers followed him from class to class.

At lunch he sat with a couple of the boys from the track team, who tried to tease him good-naturedly. "Your new girlfriend must be feisty."

"I don't have a girlfriend," he pronounced scornfully.

"That's the way to do it," one of them said. "Get your bit of fun off 'em, don't let 'em tie you down."

"That one nearly took a piece out of him though," the other one said, and they both laughed.

Stuart felt the exact moment when Vince saw the mark, felt Vince's eyes on him. And then Vince passed by holding his tray, his head down, and went to sit with Deirdre.


That night his mum said, "Marie, it's your night to cook."

"Stuart will do it," Marie said. "He owes me one."

"Since when?" his dad asked.

"I helped him with some stuff, right, Stuart?"

"Yeah," he confirmed, staring darkly at her. "School stuff."

"Well... are you sure that's all right then, love?"

"It's fine, mum," Stuart said. "I'd better make a start."

Marie followed him into the kitchen. "You went out again last night. And you went around all day with a huge bite on your neck, everyone was talking about it. Jesus, Stuart, for your own good I ought to tell them. You're making a mess of yourself."

"You love it," he said, "just one more thing to charge me for."

"What if something happens to you, what am I going to say then?"

"What're you going to say now?" he retorted.

She looked away, leaning against the counter as he took the cooking oil out the cupboard. Finally she asked, "Got any cash?"

"No," he lied.

"I guess you're cooking for my turn next week too then," she said. "Or you could just tell them."

"Fuck off, Marie," he said.

She shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Dinner was nearly silent, like always. He didn't know why they had to all eat together. Whenever he could, he took his food to his room. Eating together was a stupid idea; who wanted to be around other people when they were eating, everyone's gobs swollen with lumps of food, smacking their lips, slurping drinks, chewing like cattle, watching each other resentfully.

It was even more disgusting to have to deal with the dirty dishes, but Marie slithered out of that as well, she had a date.

"I'll do it then," his mum said. "Stuart cooked, he shouldn't have to clean up."

"It's his night for it," his dad said unexpectedly. "Let him sort it."

"That's all right. I'll do it, let him go up and mind his schoolwork," she said.

"Nah," said his dad. "He has all weekend for that. You don't mind, do you, Stuart."

"No," he said.

His dad stayed as Stuart cleared the table, and followed him into the kitchen carrying the dishes Stuart hadn't been able to haul. Stuart scraped the plates and stacked them next to the sink.

"Marie's been giving you a hard time there lately," his dad said.

Stuart's stomach went cold, his skin crawling. "Not really," he said, concentrating on the ceramic shriek of the fork across the plate.

"You know if there's anything wrong," his father said. "You can say."

"I know," Stuart said. He wet his hands, dabbing soap. Saw his father watching the fastidious way he was cleaning up. Stuck his hands under the tap and shook them briskly.

"Have you thought about cars at all?"

All the boys in his year thought about cars, talked about them all the time. "Sure," Stuart said.

"We could go have a look about. You'll be wanting a car of your own." His dad hooked his thumbs into his pockets. "I know you don't have the time for a job with all the schoolwork and track and field and that. I thought we'd buy you something that'll get you about for your sixteenth, and you can pay it off later. You know your gran left your mum a bit of money."

"That's brilliant," Stuart said. "Thanks, Dad."

"S'all right," his dad told him. "It's important, I know. When you're a teenager. You need to go out, have some space. Make your own way. 'Course, first time you're out past your curfew, those keys'll go right in the lockbox."

Stuart grinned at him. "Fair enough."

His dad smiled back. And then it faded. "You're sure there's nothing," he said. "With Marie."

He put it together. His father didn't want to know. They'd never let him have a car if they knew he'd drive down to Canal Street. They'd never let him out of the fucking house.

His dad didn't want to know, and Stuart would get a car for not telling him.

"I just hate asking her for stuff," Stuart said. "She makes such a big deal out of it. Besides. I should be able to do it myself."

His dad slapped his shoulder awkwardly. "It's good she can help you, though. No one can do everything all by himself, Stuart. Not even you." He crooked a smile. "But don't tell your mother I said that, she'd never let me hear the end of it."

"Don't worry," Stuart said. "I won't tell her a thing."


When he finished with the dishes, Stuart slipped into his room and turned on the radio. He went through some of his cassettes but suddenly everything seemed suspect. Pet Shop Boys. Erasure. He might be able to play the Smiths because they were local, lots of people listened to them, but then again, his dad had made a few jokes about that poofter who sang like Kermit the Frog. So not them either. Duran Duran were straight, weren't they?

Safer just to leave the radio on.

Throwing himself headlong across his bed, he buried his face in the wadded covers. That never felt as good as it was meant to feel, in his opinion. He couldn't posture like that for very long. Stuart wasn't much of a wallower.

He shoved himself back up and reached for the phone, dialed and got all the way to the pickup before he remembered he wasn't talking to Vince any more. He crashed the receiver down again before he could hear Vince answer. Pushed his head under the duvet and went back to glowering.

He was getting better at it.

Before too long, though, he had an idea, and swiftly he made a decision, gathered up everything he had left of Bert's money, and knocked at Marie's room.

"What?" Marie asked.

He opened the door, shut it behind him.

"I said what, not come in," Marie complained. She was sitting at her vanity, pinning up her dark hair.

"How much," Stuart asked, "to keep your gob shut for good?"

"You have to tell them someday, Stuart," Marie said.

"Not while I'm living here," he said impatiently. "They'd never let me leave the house again and you fucking know it. Mum would probably call in an exorcist."

"She's not that bad," Marie laughed. "Any more."

"How much?"

"You said you didn't have any cash, anyway."

"I lied," he said. "Let's hear a price."

"Why should I settle for whatever you have now? I could keep this going for years."

"I didn't tell them about Claire," he reminded her.

"That's hardly the same thing."

"How much?" he repeated, more aggressively.

"Oh, fine... a hundred quid," she said.

"I'll give you a hundred thirty-two," he said.

"Like you have a hundred quid just lying about," she laughed, but the exact number had her looking at him more carefully.

"I do," he said. "But you can never tell them."


"Not before I do."

"Show it to me."

He dug it out of his pocket, a dirty folded packet of cash, and counted it out.

"Christ, where'd you get that?"

"Doesn't matter."

"This is even better blackmail material, you realise," she said. "I tell mum and dad you're gay and you mysteriously have a hundred quid and change, what're they going to think?"

"I'll fucking kill you," he promised her.

She looked at him, and finally she shrugged and put out her hand. "I'll take the hundred, you can keep the rest."

"Take it all," he said. "Just... take it all."


The next Monday when Stuart was walking home after school, he glanced around the corner and saw Vince, and he wasn't alone.

There were three of them, three rough types who'd bothered the both of them before, all three walking alongside Vince. Stuart could hear them winding him up. One yelled "Fuckin' queer" right in Vince's face. Vince just shouldered him out of the way and kept walking, stone-faced, waiting them out.

"Saw your mum the other day, Tyler," Gilroy said, shifting tactics. "That slag. You seen her, Johnny?"

"Yeah, out on the corner. Giving it out."

Vince was absolute rubbish at fighting, he knew it and they knew it, but his hands were flexing into fists all the same.

Gilroy upped the ante. "Standing about in bars with her tits out. Begging for it. I'll give her one, how'd you like that? I'll let you watch. Bet it's nothing you haven't seen before-- a whole line of blokes fucking that fat ass of hers--"

And that was it, Vince was on him, his knapsack still hanging off his arm and getting in his way as he swung wide. He flailed out again, got Gilroy solid across his cheek, but Ulrich yelled "Grab him" and the other two started to wrestle his arms back.

It was going to be ugly but that was fine by Stuart, he'd started running in from the moment Vince swung, shucking his jacket and tie as he came belting up. He cast his bag and coat and tie aside just before he barreled into them, shoving and elbowing to pry them all apart and get into it.

"Fuck!" Ulrich stumbled back. "Fuck, there's the other one."

"Cunts," Stuart said. "Three to one? You fucking cunts."

"All right then. Come on," Ulrich said. "C'mon, Tyler. You and me. If your little boyfriend'll let you fight for yourself."

"Fuck off!" Vince shouted, pushing him.

Ulrich pushed back and they grappled, but Vince wasn't willing to throw the first punch. Finally Ulrich swung at him, and Vince ducked so it barely touched him, and he pasted one on Ulrich, a good hard shot right in the eye.

"Shit!" Ulrich yelled, falling back a bit, his hand clapped over his face, his skin gone mottled red and white.

Vince looked sick. He was so fucking useless in a fight; whenever he managed to land anything, he always ran out of steam. He looked as though he'd rather lose than have to hit someone again.

But they were backing off now, all three of them. "I'd kick your fucking arse for you, cocksucker," Gilroy spat at Stuart, "but you'd enjoy it too much."

Usually that was their exit line, but Stuart was in no mood to let them get away so easily. He followed after and gave Gilroy a rough shove.

"You think?" he said. "You think you can? Come on then."

"Shit, Derek, don't," Ulrich said.

"I wouldn't touch you, you fucking poof," Gilroy said.

Stuart shoved him again, hard, getting up in his face. "Too late for that," he said, prodding him. "Go on. Take a swing, you cunt."

"Fucking back off!" Gilroy shouted. "I'll knock your teeth out! All your little queer friends'll be lining up to feed their cocks down your throat then, won't they."

"Big talk. Come on, big man," Stuart taunted. "Show me what you can do. I'll spot you one." He put his hands up. "Take a free shot. Go ahead."

"Stuart, what the fuck are you doing?" Vince demanded, grabbing his arm.

Stuart shook him off. "No? Too scared?" he asked, staring the other boy down.

"You wish," Gilroy said.

"Go on then, hit me," Stuart said. "What's the matter? Don't want to lay a hand on me? Afraid you might like it?"

"Jesus," Ulrich was saying, but Gilroy's face had already changed and his fist slammed across Stuart's mouth, hard and shocking, a thunderbolt, snapping his head back.

He had to take a step back, just one, to keep his feet.

Blood ran hot, he could feel it sneaking past his lip, down his chin. Stuart shifted, balancing his weight on his toes, and grinned. His mouth ached and throbbed; he felt fantastic.

"Jesus!" Ulrich said again. "Crazy fucker!"

He knew how he must look to them, gruesome, half mad. Gilroy was shaking his hand out, the knuckles gone red, and he was trying to move off without looking as though he was backing down.

Stuart dove for him, ramming his fist into his stomach, two, three times, backing off half a step to let him curl down and come up again, and then Stuart reached back and back and hurled his whole body forward into another punch, his hand instantly going numb as he heard a crunch.

Gilroy shouted and stumbled back, arse over elbow, and stared up dumbly. Dark blood inched down toward his lip. His breath sounded funny, whistling through his nose.

"Get up," Stuart said, "I'm not done with you. Come on."

"Don't go near him, Gil," Johnny said suddenly. "He's all bloody. He'll give you AIDS. Fucking queer."

Gilroy lumbered to his feet. Stuart wiped a cupped hand across his mouth, looked at the blood. Quite a bit of blood. He flicked his fingertips at Gilroy, watched it spatter red across the other boy's stupid white face.

"Shit!" Johnny said. "Holy Christ!"

"I'm going to fucking kill you," Gilroy said. He couldn't quite breathe through his nose; it came out pinched, ineffectual. "I'm gonna kill you, Jones."

"Could be I've already killed you. Better go get a blood test," Stuart said. "Explain that to your fucking mum, you fucking cunt."

"You're dead," Gilroy yelled as the other two hauled him away. "You're dead!"

Once they were gone Stuart dragged the back of his hand across his mouth, touched his teeth. They hurt a bit but none of them felt loose. His lip stung, inside where it was cut. He looked over at Vince.

It wasn't until he saw the puzzled, searching expression on Vince's face that Stuart remembered he was meant to be through with Vince.

"You all right?" Vince asked. "It looks like it hurts."

"Yeah. 'S nothing," Stuart said, though he couldn't take his hand away because the blood was welling up again.

Vince fished a crumpled travel pack of tissues out of his knapsack and handed them over. Stuart peeled the plastic off and pressed the lot against his mouth.

"Thanks," Vince said.

"Soon you won't have to deal with that sort of thing any more, will you," Stuart said bitterly. "You'll be safe. You and your fucking girlfriend."

Staring down at his hands, Vince said, "I told her I can't take her out again."

"Did you tell her why?"

Vince met his eyes. "Yeah."

"What'd she say?"

"She slapped me," Vince said. "And then she started crying."

"Fuck's sake."


Stuart rolled his numb hand experimentally. The knuckles sparked with pain. "Shit," he muttered.

"Here," Vince said. He rubbed his palms together hard, took up Stuart's hand and pressed the heat against Stuart's knuckles. The warmth made the sting fade a little. And for just that moment they were holding hands, right around the corner from their school, and that was brilliant. Stuart let himself relax.

"You need ice," Vince said. "For this and your mouth. And a different shirt. The state of you..."

Stuart looked down at himself. Blood all down the front of his clothes. Spotted on the cuffs.

Vince touched one of the stains. "We'd better get this into some cold water if you're going to save it." He stood and picked up Stuart's things as well as his own. "You coming?"


"All right then," he said.

The house was quiet and empty. It always seemed smaller and sort of poky when no one was there. Vince went round turning on lights, and that made it better.

"Where's your mum?" Stuart asked.

"Out with Fred," Vince said, fetching ice. "She's breaking it off, she didn't want to tell him here. She says he's too heavy. He keeps talking about moving in."

"There is that extra room," Stuart said, accepting the tea towel full of ice that Vince offered. He'd wished more than once he could move into that room.

"She says she doesn't want him about that much. Any road, we might rent it out," said Vince. He turned and rummaged in the hot press, came up with a shirt that had a little rip in the shoulder seam, handed it over.

Stuart pulled his stained school shirt over his head and gave it to Vince. He put Vince's shirt on, doing up the buttons slowly, watching as Vince ran the tap and fiddled with the sink.

"I didn't tell them," he said.

"I know," Vince said.

And then he came over to Stuart, ran his thumb over Stuart's swollen lower lip and kissed him and said very softly, "We'll tell them later," his hand dropping to Stuart's fly as Stuart snogged him, tasting Vince, and cigarettes, and blood. Pulling him in, hard, a hand cupping the back of Vince's neck, holding him there, kissing. Vince's fingers circling his cock, strong and sure, cool from the ice, warming up, his other hand tangling in Stuart's hair.

He started when Vince muttered, "I can never stop the drain properly on the first try," and turned the faucet again.

"Did she say anything else? Deirdre."

"No," Vince said. "She'd already said she couldn't be pregnant, she's on it now, I guess. And... she just kept crying. So I left."

Stuart did up the cuffs of his borrowed top. One button was loose.

He said, "I'm not telling them."

Vince looked at him, sunlight cutting in through the window, warm gold across his face. His eyes were very blue. "I know," he said.

He filled the sink with cold water, letting Stuart's shirt fall into it. Thin threads of blood spiralled up from the wet white cotton.

Stuart said, "They're buying me a car."

"Lucky sod," Vince said, with no particular heat. Just a statement of fact.

"Yeah," Stuart said. "Lucky me."


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